A passionate team from Visvesvaraya Museum, a group of scientists from NAL and a popular sculptor from the city undertook a project in 2003 to commemorate the centenary of Wright Brothers’ first flight. Anantha Krishnan M cruises down memory lane with them to capture their story

Published: 17th December 2013 08:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th December 2013 08:23 AM   |  A+A-

Bangalore’s very own Wright Brothers will celebrate 10 years of their arrival to the Aviation Capital today. They ‘entered’ the Visvesvaraya Industrial Technological Museum (VITM) on Kasturba Road on December 17, 2003, the same day when the world was celebrating the centenary of the historic first flight of the Wright Brothers. Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright created history at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina on December 17, 1903, when their Flyer touched 120 feet in just 12 seconds.

VITM was the first in India to honour the Wright Brothers by creating a replica of Flyer in addition to exhibiting life-size statues of the Wright Brothers. Noted sculptor Kanaka Murthy made the fibreglass statues, a project she terms as being very close to her heart. But, the making of the Flyer was a Herculean task, and former VITM curator Sunil Kumar was the man in-charge of the project in 2003. Recalling his association, Sunil told City Express on Monday that a total of 16 people, including carpenters, fitters and technicians, worked round the clock on the Flyer project.

“It was in 2002 we got the idea of creating the replica of Flyer. The project was funded by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) and senior scientist Raman played a pivotal role in the project. Raman was popular for his interest in making miniature models, and we were excited when he approached us with the idea. More than the cost, the team effort needs to appreciated,” says Sunil, who was the curator at VITM for 16 years. The team sourced original drawings of Flyer from National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian Museum) in Washington DC. “The next biggest task was the selection of material. Wright Brothers used ash (hardwood) and spruce (lighter wood) for the Flyer. We used teak in place of ash and silver oak in place of spruce. The wood was sourced locally,” says Sunil, who is currently with the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, a Tata Institute of Fundamental Research project.

Raman (who passed away before the completion of the project) gave a working drawing for each individual section and the team was not willing to compromise on any aspect of the Flyer. “We wanted to build the plane exactly the way Wright Brothers built it in 1903. Every part was hand-crafted. The engine was the only part which isn’t authentic in the desi flyer since we used an electric motor instead,” says Sunil, who was also the curator for the Birla Industrial Technological Museum in Kolkata for nine years, prior to coming to  VITM.

While the Wright Brothers used the ‘Pride of West’ (muslin) cloth to cover the wings, the one at  VITM is made of cotton fabric. “They used a number of threads per square inch. We came close to what they did. We bought the fabric from a shop in Srirampura and then it was stitched to perfection. For all of us who were part of the Flyer project, it was truly an inspiring mission. Looking back, I feel as if 2003 was yesterday,” Sunil added.


For 70-year-old Kanaka Murthy, renowned sculptor, it was a dream project that landed at her doorstep, in 2003 when NAL-VITM combine approached her. “I was very happy to sculpt the Wright Brothers. It was an honour for me and I enjoyed every bit of it. I remember the excitement of the people who dropped by my house to see the brothers as I gave the final touches. I had some difficulty in fixing Orville Wright’s moustache. It was trim. I read a lot about the brothers before venturing into the project. I have done many sculptures, but this one is very close to my heart,” Kanaka Murthy, a resident of Kamannahalli, said. She took just four months to complete the project.

Visitors to VITM are greeted by the brothers with Wilbur Wright standing and waving a hat, while Orville Wright is lying down, flying the plane. Kanaka Murthy said that she was against painting the 5-foot-6-inch tall sculptures. “That’s the only regret I have as they wanted them painted, which takes some of the sheen away. I am personally against painting any sculpture,” said Kanaka Murthy, a recipient of many awards, including the prestigious Jakanachari Award.

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